Positive motivation for children

My sweet friend Rebeca blogs over at Carried On The Wind, and she left this comment last week:

Have you ever written about the system you use(d?) with your boys with the little tokens? I thought it was brilliant when you explained it at your home years ago. I was thinking I need to implement something like that but of course can’t remember. :> So, your readers are practically BEGGING you to do a post about it.

and when I said “tell me what you want me to write about.” I was serious (smile) We haven’t used this system in a while, as the boys have outgrown it but when we did? It was nothing short of miraculous!

First, you find something all your children really love. I was blessed with three BOYS, so that part was EASY. I do not understand what is in testosterone that makes a flickering screen so mesmerizing? but both my husband and father-in-law have the same love for TV, computer, and video games…so our sons come by it naturally. That was the juicy carrot I had to dangle out in front of the stubborn mules…”Electronics Time” It could be the Nintendo DS, a computer game, Wii or a TV show but if it plugged in? It counted as “electronics”. Your kids might be motivated by a new Latin verb phrase book, or taking soup to the homeless but if that’s true I don’t want to hear about it..

Then I printed out a paper (on Microsoft Word) and cut into strips a bunch of  long “tags” that all said 5 Minutes, 10 minutes, 15 Minutes. I laminated them and punched a hole in the top to make them easy to hang. I used “Command” hooks from the store and put each childs initial on, then hung them on the inside of a kitchen cupboard door. The strips I put in separate sandwich bags, in the same cupboard. I explained the system to the boys and we started it over fresh, each Monday. Here is how it worked:

1. You earned a 15 minute tag each evening when you had done your required chores and schoolwork ON YOUR OWN, without reminders. Being responsible and self initiating earned you over an hour of electronics time on Saturday morning!

2. The 5 and 10 minute tags were “bonus” tickets for Mom and Dad to hand out as we chose. This gave us opportunities to “catch” our boys being good. When we overheard a brother encouraging another, or noticed an extra effort given while making the bed, or someone persevered through a math test without grumbling? We could spontaneously say “Wow! I think you deserve a 10 min ticket! I loved seeing you being (responsible, patient, diligent, kind) and I am proud of you!

3. The tickets were added up on Friday night or Saturday morning, and the resulting reward was given, then the tickets put back into the sandwich bags. It was a fresh slate for the coming week.

4. The boys could choose to bless his brother with one of his tickets, if he wanted to. (I was shocked that this actually happened a few times!)

5. We could offer tickets as “pay” for extra chores outside or around the house.

6. We could remove a ticket for really disobedient or disrespectful behavior.

The MAIN RULE: boys weren’t allowed to ask for tickets. If they did something and said “doesn’t THAT get me a ticket?!” they would automatically lose one.

It was up to them as children, to do the right thing, simply because it is the right thing (virtue being its own reward). It was up to us as parents, to teach, to observe and then to bless or admonish, as needed…

This little reward system is just a tool for positive reinforcement and a way to help children feel that truth glow of “I did the right thing and it feels good!!!”

However, let me state clearly that it has to be done carefully because taken out of context, it can just be another form of bribery and manipulation which is terrible parenting. The overwhelmed Mom in the grocery store who is begging/pleading with her preschooler for good behavior but the child doesn’t buckle and so it escalates into yelling and demanding? That Mom sees this type of idea and says “ok! This might work-I will FORCE my child to behave or they won’t get xyz” (and there are a thousand variations on that system…counting to 3, time-out, no dessert etc.) They are all different flavors of the same parental message “Make my life easier, kid or pay the price.” and I hate that.

That is not what this is about. The idea is that you have already taught your children the basics:

respect for your authority.


conflict resolution (forgiving a sibling and asking their forgiveness).

being an encourager, not a grumbler or whiner. 

waiting your turn, patiently.


not spitting at Grandma.

not drawing on the cat with a Sharpie, etc.

No “system” teaches them that. The system reinforces the lessons you have already been teaching since birth. Whatever methods we use in parenting–

(and we all use SOMETHING, even if by default or non-choice, it slides back to whatever threats our own parent used on us…)

Our kids need to be CAUGHT BEING GOOD more often than they are disciplined for being bad. The message of whether or not we see them? It gets through to their inner being. What do they hear? If the majority of our interactions with them are

stop that. no. I told you! go to your room. that’s enough. I am so tired of this. no. Why won’t you listen? that is not allowed. no. don’t talk back to me. be nice. sit up straight. I am counting to three. finish your lunch. be quiet. no. do you want a time out? then stop it!

those words. that tone. the message you never meant them to hear, but gets through is this: “you are too much work. there is something wrong with you. love and affection have to be earned. you are a bad kid. it is hard to be around you.”

kids are looking at us, their parents, and aching to hear this:

I see you. I like you. You are a good kid. You sin, yes. But it doesn’t define who you ARE to me, and I am able to handle you at your worst. Because you are loved. treasured. precious to me. and worth any sacrifice.

wouldn’t that have changed your life, to have had that experience, as a child?


and do you know how to recognize good parenting?

It is by looking to how the Father parents…

He has high standards.

He speaks truth, faithfully and gently.

He lets us face the consequences of our actions, and learn from them.

He blesses beyond what we deserve.

He leads us to repentance and change by His kindness towards us.

His love is unconditional and sacrificial.

and often on Mondays, when I am making the Gratitude List, I am feeling those are kind of like my little tickets, hanging on my “hook”.  Encouragment from my Daddy who is always watching me and says “I like you, Brenda! and since I know you enjoy sparrows, and coffee, and Danskos and the smell of rain, and friendship and Mozart and buttered popcorn? I am blowing those kisses at you today, just to say:

I see you. I like you. You are a good kid. You sin, yes. But it doesn’t define who you ARE to me, and I am able to handle you at your worst. Because you are loved. treasured. precious to me. and worth any sacrifice.


About sparrowjourney

Christian homeschooling mom to three boys, married to my best friend, John, for over 20 years. I love gardening without gloves, learning history with my kids, cooking with lots of butter, serving others, great books, rich coffee, studying the Bible, camping outdoors, scrapbooking, vintage home decor, the smell of rain and cut grass, authentic people, poetry, laughing until your sides hurt, and babies. oh and black licorice is pretty awesome.
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4 Responses to Positive motivation for children

  1. kelli says:

    I stand in awe oh wise grasshopper… the Colbert home will be implementing this ASAP! just brilliant! Thank you Brenda for sharing your pearls of wisdom!

  2. Rebeca says:

    THANK YOU! I have become that naggy, frustrated mom who snaps way too easily. I’m going to have Erik read this and then talk about how we can implement something like this in our home. Thank you so much for writing this out. Hugs!

  3. del says:

    How did you. Get so smart you should do a kids book it would sell

    • Brian says:

      I’ve re-read this about three times now. I may or may not give the little tag reward system a try but I love this statement.
      “I see you. I like you. You are a good kid. You sin, yes. But it doesn’t define who you ARE to me, and I am able to handle you at your worst. Because you are loved. treasured. precious to me. and worth any sacrifice.”

      I also need this reminder from time to time… “Our kids need to be CAUGHT BEING GOOD more often than they are disciplined for being bad.”

      Thanks Brenda.

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